In both New York and Maryland, the most persuasive lobbying came not form professional advocates but from gay couples and their families, and from others who simply believe the time has come for the state to recognize same-sex marriage. In New York, advocates were able to marshal thousands of gay marriage supporters from individual lawmakers' districts to contact them to make their views known.
In Maryland last year, advocates had relatively little time to gear up for the debate — it only became clear that they had any chance of success in December, when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (himself a gay marriage opponent) rearranged a key committee so that it had a majority in favor of same-sex marriage. Next year, they will know which lawmakers they need to persuade and will have time to marshal grass-roots support in those legislators' districts.
Challenges and opportunities
One key difference between Maryland and New York that will make the path more difficult here is the political influence of African-American churches, which helped ensure the defeat of the gay marriage bill this year. Attempts to enlist their support by analogizing the push for gay marriage to the civil rights struggle proved largely unpersuasive and may have done more harm than good. Advocates might have more success couching the issue in terms of shared family values.
Unlike New York, Maryland also has to cope with the voter referendum process. If there had been any doubt before that opponents would successfully petition a gay marriage bill to referendum, it was erased by the avalanche of signatures submitted in the effort to overturn Maryland's illegal immigrant tuition bill. The prospect of a referendum adds to the pressure for gay marriage advocates to succeed next year as opposed to later in the term. That way it would go on the ballot in 2012, not 2014 when senators and delegates are also up for election.
That said, gay marriage advocates are in a good position in Maryland. They know where the votes are in the Senate, and that is unlikely to change. They also know who in the House is persuadable, and because a vote was never taken in that chamber, they don't need to get anyone to reverse themselves, a factor that made the effort in New York more difficult.
They also now have the object lessons of what happened to those politicians who came out in favor of gay marriage this year, such as Governor O'Malley and Senator Kittleman, and Sens. Jim Brochin, Kathy Klausmeier, Edward Kasemeyer andRonald Young.
Senator Brochin had long opposed gay marriage, insisting on civil unions instead, until he changed his mind during a committee hearing this year. After the legislative session was over, he sent out his customary annual letter to constituents he had met over the years by knocking on doors, some 8,800 households and 14,000 voters.
"While my decision to support same-sex marriage did not come easily," he wrote, "I am convinced that it was the right decision. In the end, I could not let my preconceived notions and my own uneasiness over the word 'marriage' trump my commitment to provide equal protection under the law, and to allow same-sex couples to raise their families in peace, without fear of discrimination."
Before the letter went out, he said, people in his district were "pretty skeptical." But not now.
"When I'm at swim meets with my daughter, or at the Giant, or wherever, overwhelmingly people come up to me and say, 'I got your letter, and I understand why you did what you did. I'm not crazy about the word marriage, but I understand,'" he said.
And that, more than a sense of momentum from New York, is why gay marriage proponents should feel good about their chances next year.